A family describes being terrorized by man accused of kidnapping, killing 4 in Merced


When Kathy and her daughter Katrina first saw surveillance images of the man accused of kidnapping and killing four members of a Merced family, they did not immediately recognize him.

Jesus Manuel Salgado, now 48, had aged significantly, and Kathy and Katrina weren’t sure he was the man who robbed them at gunpoint in their dark garage 17 years ago.

Salgado was taken into custody Tuesday on suspicion of kidnapping and murder in the deaths of Jasdeep Singh, 36; his wife, Jasleen Kaur, 27; their 8-month-old daughter, Aroohi Dheri; and Singh’s brother Amandeep Singh, 39. The four were abducted at gunpoint from the family business a day earlier in an incident captured on surveillance video.

On Friday, Sukhdeep Singh, a brother of Jasdeep and Amandeep, confirmed that Salgado had worked for his brother’s company, Unison Trucking.

Nearly two decades ago, Salgado had worked for Kathy and Katrina’s family, which also owned a trucking company.

They noticed the methods in the two crimes seemed eerily similar: terrorize a family on their property at gunpoint and force them to follow orders under the threat of death.

“My heart is shattered for this family,” said Katrina, who asked that their last name not be used.

This image released by the Merced County Sheriff’s Office shows Jesus Manuel Salgado.

(Merced County Sheriff’s Office)

This week’s events took the women back to the night of Dec. 19, 2005.

Salgado had worked for their family’s trucking company but was fired in 2004 because the family suspected him of stealing money, she and her mother said.

Kathy and Katrina remembered Salgado as unfailingly polite, if quiet.

“It was always, ‘Yes, ma’am, no ma’am,’ ” Kathy said.

Katrina recalled mornings when he would come into their house before her father, Wade, drove Salgado to work.

“I never felt scared around him,” she said. “He was nice. I never put a fear with his face.”

Katrina was 16 and hanging out with a friend that night when she got a rare call from her father.

“Tell Mom to open the door ’cause I bought a rug,” Wade told her.

She didn’t know that Salgado had sneaked up behind her father as he arrived home and pulled a gun on him.

Salgado held the family at gunpoint, binding Katrina’s father’s hands with duct tape, she said. He rounded up the family as well as Katrina’s friend and took them to the garage, where the family kept a safe stocked with cash and jewelry, they said.

Photo provided by the Merced County Sheriff’s office shows surveillance video of Jesus Manuel Salgado.

(Merced County Sheriff’s Office)

Kathy struggled with the safe’s lock, her fingers trembling as Salgado pointed the gun at the family, she said. Katrina lit the darkened room with the light from a phone, she said.

“I was so scared,” Kathy said. “And I expected to hear the shot as soon as [the safe] was open.”

The cash and jewels weren’t enough, though, Kathy said. Salgado wanted her wedding ring.

“You want my ring?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

Katrina’s father had recognized his former employee, even though Salgado was wearing a mask, Katrina recalled.

“Don’t use his name,” he whispered to Kathy.

Salgado led the family to the backyard pool and made them jump in as he escaped, Kathy and Katrina said. He was caught a few days later after the family reported him to police.

Salgado was convicted in early 2007 of home invasion robbery with a gun, attempted false imprisonment and witness intimidation, Merced County prosecutors said. He served nearly 10 years in prison before getting paroled in 2015.

“Because of what he did to us, in his mind, he had to smarten up. He didn’t get away with it,” Katrina said.

Video surveillance this week showed that, as with Kathy and Katrina’s family, the suspect in Monday’s kidnapping held the Singh family at gunpoint, binding the men’s arms but not Jasleen Kaur’s.

The gunman led the family members in groups of two to a car and drove them away, the video showed.

Jasleen Kaur, left, Jasdeep Singh, 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri, and Amandeep Singh, who were all abducted from an unidentified business in Merced and later found dead.

(Merced County Sheriff’s Office)

On Tuesday morning, Merced County sheriff’s detectives learned that a bank card belonging to one of the victims was used at a bank ATM in the nearby town of Atwater.

After reviewing surveillance video from the bank, investigators believed the person making the transaction resembled a man photographed by security cameras at the site of the kidnapping, authorities said.

Salgado was identified as a person of interest in the investigation and “prior to law enforcement involvement” attempted to take his own life, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. He was taken to a hospital in critical condition.

The bodies of Aroohi, Kaur and the two Singhs were found by a farmer in Dos Palos the following day.

“Tonight our worst fears have been confirmed,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said after the bodies were discovered in an orchard. Authorities released surveillance video of the kidnapping hours earlier.

The killings have shattered the victims’ family.

“This is the story of our shared American dream gone wrong,” Jaspreet Kaur, the widow of Amandeep Singh, wrote in a post for a GoFundMe site.

She described 8-month-old Aroohi as a joyous baby who loved to be held by family members. The child lived with her parents, aunt, uncle and two cousins, all under one roof.

Jasdeep and Amandeep had immigrated to America more than a decade ago, the post said; Jasdeep’s wife, Jasleen Kaur, had come to California two years ago.

“As immigrants to America, they [Jasdeep and Amandeep] worked tirelessly for 18 years to achieve safety, security, and community for themselves and their families. Aman and Jasdeep were the primary bread earners for the family,” the post read.

Salgado was jailed on suspicion of kidnapping and murder on Thursday, after being released from the hospital.

On Friday, Salgado’s brother, Alberto Salgado, was arrested on suspicion of criminal conspiracy, accessory and destroying evidence in the case.

Family members of the victims have declined to comment to The Times.

The Merced County Sheriff’s Office is continuing its investigation and will present evidence to the county district attorney’s office, which will consider charges against the Salgados.

The sheriff has said said he hopes the district attorney pursues the death penalty in the case.

“There’s a special place in hell” for the suspect, Warnke said.

Times staff writer Marcum reported from Merced, Calif., and Goldberg and Hernandez from Los Angeles.

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